In 24 hours the Federal Reserve will announce its monetary policy decision and everyone expects interest rates will remain unchanged. The Fed has done a great job of preparing the market for steady rates but no changes to monetary policy doesn’t mean no volatility for the U.S. dollar.
The reason why the April FOMC meeting is important is because it will help to shape expectations for June. There’s no monetary policy in May so if the Fed wanted to prepare the market for possible tightening, they would need to tweak this month’s FOMC statement. The problem is that the odds of a dollar positive and negative outcome is roughly balanced. With the global markets stabilizing and commodity prices moving higher, the Fed has less to worry about internationally but domestically, growth has slowed. So even though no changes in monetary policy is expected at this month’s meeting, the greenback could still have a meaningful reaction to FOMC based upon the Fed’s assessment of the economy.
Now lets run through the possible scenarios:
Scenario 1 – The FOMC statement remains virtually unchanged = Mildly negative for the dollar because it would imply an ongoing split within the Fed and reluctance to raise interest rates.
Scenario 2 – Fed acknowledges deterioration in data and leaves out risk assessment = Dollar Bearish
The balance of risks statement was removed from the last 2 monetary policy statements because policymakers could not agree on the outlook for the economy. So if the risk statement is absent again, the dollar could spiral lower as the market interprets it to mean no rate hike in June.
Scenario 3 – Fed acknowledges deterioration in data but describes it as transitory AND the risk statement returns = Dollar Bullish
If the risk statement reappears and the Fed describes the risks are balanced, the dollar will soar as the chance of a June hike increases significantly. Aside from the risk statement the central bank’s comments about recent data disappointments will also be important. If they say the deterioration is transitory, it will help the dollar.
The following table shows how the U.S. economy performed between March and April. An initial glance shows more deterioration than improvements with consumer spending, labor market activity, inflation, production and trade weakening. However there are glimmers of hope. The rally in U.S. stocks helped to boost consumer confidence as measured by the Conference Board’s report, consumer prices are still moving upwards as gas prices increased. New and pending home sales rebounded and most importantly manufacturing and service sector activity accelerated. With average hourly earnings on the rise, the Fed could argue that the economy will regain momentum in the near future and with prices rising, they need to get ahead of inflation expectations. In other words while the data suggests that the Fed should be less hawkish, they could also find reasons to stick to their plan of raising rates twice this year.
Top Forex Themes for 2016
Since the next two weeks are generally the quietest periods in the financial markets, we want to take this opportunity to think longer term and share with you our currency forecasts for 2016. We’ll start with an initial review of the top themes and explore them in further detail as the week progresses in our outlook for each of the major currencies.
But first – 2015 has been a big year for the foreign exchange market. Divergences in monetary policies led to strong moves in currencies with the U.S. dollar as the best performer. The U.S. saw its first rate hike in nearly a decade while other major central banks in the Eurozone, China, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan eased. In response, the greenback climbed to multiyear highs and this strength translated into significant weakness for many major currencies along with a collapse for commodities. These are some of the milestones reached in currencies this year:
The greatest risk for the financial markets and the global economy in the coming year is the feedback loop from the dollar and Fed policy.
While the quarter point hike in December represents only a nominal increase in U.S. rates, the Federal Reserve expects to tighten 4 additional times next year which will have broad ramifications for currencies, equities and commodities. In mid-December, we published a piece outlining the Consequences of a Strong Dollar and a lot of these issues will return to focus in 2016.
The first few months of the year should be good for the dollar as long as Fed officials don’t backtrack on their hawkish views.
There will be more hawks voting on the FOMC in 2016 than 2015 so the balance swings in favor of continued tightening. Between the warm El Nino weather and gas prices below $2.00 a gallon in some states, consumer spending should also rise in the first quarter. So while the dollar is rich, the path of least resistance is still in higher. However our outlook changes in the second half of 2016 as we believe rate hikes and the strong dollar will force the Fed to slow tightening makring the top for the greenback and the bottom for other major currencies.
Here are some of the themes that we are looking for in 2016:
Is Buying Dollars in 2016 a Smart or Foolish Trade?
2015 has been a great year for the U.S. dollar but with only 5 trading days left many investors are wondering if being long dollars in 2016 is still a smart trade. December has been a difficult month for the greenback with dollar bulls struggling to maintain control. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time since June 2006 but instead of appreciating, the dollar erased nearly all of November’s gains. Now many investors are wondering that if a rate hike and hawkish forward guidance can’t lift the dollar, is it foolish to be buying greenbacks in 2016.
To answer that question we have to understand why investors sold dollars in December. The bet that the dollar would rise in 2015 was one of the world’s most crowded trades and according to the CFTC’s Commitment of Traders report, forex futures traders were busy adjusting positions ahead of the December 16 FOMC meeting. The biggest changes were in euro and yen where investors aggressively cut their short euro and short yen positions. This means that investors started to unwind their long dollar trades ahead of FOMC and based on the price action after the meeting, liquidated further after the rate hike. Buying dollars became a very crowded trade in 2015 and a lot of money moved to the sidelines at the end of the year.
This means there’s money to put back into play in 2016.
Yet positioning was not the only reason why investors bailed out of the greenback. According to the following chart past tightening cycles have not been good for the dollar and this scared many investors. While USD/JPY generally appreciated leading up to the rate hike, on a number of occasions it reversed course after tightening but this cycle is different because the first few months of the year will be good for the U.S. economy and the dollar. The warm El Nino weather and low gas prices will boost consumer consumption, which is already supported by steady job creation, wage growth and consumer borrowing. The Fed also welcomes new hawks to their roster of FOMC voters.
EUR 2016 Outlook – Forget About Parity
By Kathy Lien, Managing Director of BKAsset Management
Six years after the financial crisis and the European Central Bank is still struggling to turn around their economy.
As recently as December, they increased stimulus in a desperate attempt to revive growth and drive inflation higher. This illustrates how deeply entrenched the slowdown is and how poor of a job Eurozone policymakers have done this past year. In the third quarter, the Eurozone economy expanded by a mere 0.3%. During this same period the U.S. economy grew 2%. Inflation is low around the world but the approximately 10% slide in EUR/USD combined with the full scale QE program launched in early 2015 should have been more effective in boosting inflation, which ran at a 0.2% annualized pace in November – well short of the central bank’s 2% target.
2016 brings more challenges for the Eurozone economy.
While the ECB is comfortable with the current level of monetary policy they will need to extend bond purchases beyond September 2016. September is only a soft target and we can’t see a scenario where growth or inflation will improve enough 9 months forward to warrant a reduction in stimulus. Also, if inflation and growth do not make significant upside progress, the ECB may need to expand the program in the coming year. The ECB’s decision to provide additional stimulus in December reflected their sense of urgency and their overall concern about the economy. Their efforts are paying off as there have been signs of recovery in the Germany but meaningful risks lie ahead. The prospect of further weakness in emerging markets, particularly China, unstable geopolitical situations in the Middle East and Russia, high unemployment, stagnant wages are just some of the problems posing downside risks for the Eurozone in 2016. Countries in the region will benefit from the new round of stimulus, weaker euro and low oil prices but the benefits will be slow to come. France and Italy have not made much progress in terms of growth and while Spain is doing well it is only the fourth largest economy in the region. The fiscal position of most Eurozone nations is also very weak with only a handful producing a budget surplus in the past 3 years. The largest sector, financials will suffer from negative deposit rates. Debt levels are high and major progress towards reducing that burden is not expected over the next 12 months.
British Pound and the Defining Issues for 2016
By Kathy Lien, Managing Director for BK Asset Management
2016 will be a defining year for the British pound – a year when politics will overshadow economics.
Considering that sterling ended the year near 7 month lows against the U.S. dollar, some of our readers may find it surprising that the U.K. was one of the best performing G10 economies. However according to the latest figures for the third quarter, the U.K. economy grew at an annualized pace of 2.1% which matches the pace of U.S. growth. In contrast the Eurozone and Japanese grew 1.6%, Australia expanded 2.5% and Canada contracted by 0.2%. There’s also very little debate that the Bank of England will be the next major central bank to raise interest rates. Yet sterling benefited from none of this and instead weakened versus the euro, Japanese Yen, U.S. and New Zealand dollars over the past 6 months. Part of the underperformance was driven by U.S. dollar strength but slow U.K. wage growth, mixed data and cautious policymakers has the market looking for rates to rise in 2017 and not 2016.
We believe the market is underestimating the Bank of England and the U.K. economy because 2016 should be a year of strong growth.
Consumer spending is the backbone of the economy and sales surged in the month of November. While wage growth slowed, labour force participation rates remain near their highest levels in 20 years and service sector activity is accelerating according to the latest reports. As the labor market tightens and inflation bottoms out, wages should rise as well. Slow Chinese and Eurozone growth poses a risk to the economy and the manufacturing sector but the U.K. is still expected to be one of the fastest growing G10 economies in 2016.
From the perspective of growth alone, the Bank of England should raise interest rates in the first half of the year. However there are 2 primary issues holding the central bank back – low commodity prices and the risk of Brexit. Oil prices could remain low for a large part of the year and as of November consumer prices are running at a 0.1% annualized pace, which is far short of the central bank’s forecast. Considering that the Federal Reserve raised rates with yoy inflation at 0.5%, the BoE may not need to see CPI above 1% before tightening monetary policy but they could be reluctant to do so until there is greater clarity on Britain’s position within Europe.
The greatest risk that the U.K. economy and the British pound faces in 2016 is Brexit.